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Vijayanagara, the Forgotten Empire

Earlier in my blog, I have put down some of my abroad travel experiences. Now, I am a traveler looking for a great place in my own country.  My close association with history is an old affair, hence I was searching for a historical place. My search ended in ancient “Vijayanagara” or the modern days “Hampi”, located in the northern part of Karnataka, a state in the southern part of India. As I zeroed down to this place, I booked quick railway tickets and got all set for the trip. I went to Hospet, a small town in the northern Karnataka, around 12 KM away from Hampi. To avoid all travel hassles I made a cab booking before hand and was greeted by my driver, Manjunath at the railway station, who drove me to my night halt at the Kishkinda Heritage Resort .  The Resort was around 30 away from Hampi by road, but only 3 KM away if one crosses the river Tungabhadra by boat.  After taking a days rest, I went out to find the forgotten empire , ‘the Vijayanagara’.

It was a memorable travel as the vastness of the ancient city ruins mesmerized me, left me spellbound imagining its prosperity in those days.

Here is a brief history for those, who are unaware of it. The ancient ruined city of ‘Vijayanagara’, City of Victory is situated in Bellary District of northern Karnataka & is spread across the river Tungabhadra. It is now a “UNESCO World Heritage Site” & is commonly known as ‘ruins of Hampi’. The ruins of the ancient city reminds us the great Vijayangara Empire of Southern India which was established in 1336 by two Sangama brothers Harihara & Bukka.

In medieval India when southern India was repeatedly invaded by Muslim rulers from north & the Hindu kings of south had all been defeated by Alla-ud-din Khilji and Muhammad bin Tughluq, the Sultans of Delhi, VijayaNagara kingdom had emerged as the only powerful Hindu Empire of that time. The city of Vijayanagara was established by King Harihara and had reached its zenith of its power, culture, architecture & prosperity in the rein of King Krishnadevaraya of Tuluva Dynasty.

As the prosperous capital of the largest and most powerful kingdom of its time in all of India, Vijayanagara attracted people from all around the world. The writings of medieval European travelers such as Domingo Paes, Fernao Nuniz and Niccolò Da Conti and Abdur Razzak, the Persian traveler, describe the prosperity of the city. The Portuguese traveler Domingo Paes had described The city of Vijayanagar as “large as Rome and very beautiful to the sight”. This ancient city is believed to be the largest city in India & the second largest in the world with around 500,000 inhabitants at the end of 15th century. The city flourished between the 14th century and 16th century, during the height of the power of the Vijayanagar empire. Contemporary descriptions depict a very large and highly-developed metropolitan area. Starting at its outermost fortifications, the principality of Vijayanagar spans from Anegondi in the north to Hosapete in the south and covers a total area of 650 sq. km. Vijayanagara’s core, an area of sq. 25 km, includes the Tungabhadra River flowing through rocky terrain with huge boulders piled in massive formations. Hampi, the central village of the Vijayanagara city, is identified with the historical Kishkindha, the Vanara (monkey) kingdom which finds mention in the Ramayana.

The sudden capture and killing of Vijayanagara king Aliya Rama Raya in 1565 at the Battle of Talikota, against an alliance of the Deccan sultanates, after a seemingly easy victory for the Vijayanagara armies, created havoc and confusion in the Vijayanagara ranks, which were then completely routed. The Sultanates’ army later plundered Hampi and reduced it to the ruinous state in which it remains; it was never re-occupied.

Vijaynagara with its proud history, with its vastness, with its architectural brilliance remains a must see historical place in India. The main visiting places are Virupaksha Temple, Vittala Temple, Krishna Temple, Ugra Narasimha, The King’s Balance, Lotus Mahal, Elephant stables etc..

Virupaksha (another name of God Shiva) was the patron deity of the Vijayanagara rulers. The main temple is believed to be constructed by King Harihara  & then extended by King Krishnadevaraya. The most ornate of all structures in the temple, the central pillared hall is believed to be his addition to this temple. So is the gateway tower giving access to the inner courtyard of the temple. Inscriptions on a stone plaque installed next to the pillared hall explain his contribution to the temple. It is recorded that Krishnadevaraya commissioned this hall in 1510 AD. This temple is the only temple in Vijayanagara where deity is still worshiped regularly. Common believe is that when Muslim invaders was destroying the city,they saw a pig in front of the temple & so they didn’t destroy it.

Krishna Temple was built by Maharaja Krishnadevaraya to celebrate the conquest of the eastern kingdom of Udayagiri or Utkala (in the present day Orissa state) in 1513 AD. The main idol installed in the temple was the figure of Balakrishna (Lord Krishna as infant).  Parts of the temple has collapsed & reconstruction work is carried away. There is now no image in the inner sanctuary.

The massive rock cut idol of Narasimha, the fierce aspect of Vishnu, 6.7 m high is known as Ugra Narasimha. Originally the idol bore a smaller image of Lakshmi on one knee; this had fallen off, probably due to vandalism. The Lakshmi statue is now in the museum at Kamalapuram. Narasimha is depicted seated on the coils of Shesha. Shesha is shown here in a form with seven heads, the heads arching over Narasimha to form a canopy. The statue has recently been restored. The granite strap binding between his knees is a recent addition to stabilize it.The donation of this work is ascribed to either Krishnadevaraya, or to a wealthy merchant during his reign.

Vittala temple is the most extravagant architectural showpiece of Vijayanagara. Vittala, after whom the temple is known, is a form of lord Vishnu. This aspect of Vishnu was worshiped in this part of the country as their cult deity by the cattle herds. The temple was originally built in the 15th century AD by Maharaja Krishnadevaraya. The highlight of Vittala temple is its impressive pillared halls and the stone chariot. The halls are carved with an overwhelming array of sculptures on the giant granite pillars. The stone chariot located inside the campus is almost an iconic structure of Hampi.It may appear (and sometimes even referred to) as a monolithic structure. In reality this stone shrine was built with many giant granite blocks. The joints are smartly hidden in the carvings and other decorative features that adorn the Stone Chariot. The chariot is built on a rectangular platform of a feet or so high. All around this base platform is carved with mythical battle scenes. Though the chariot is not resting on it, the four giant wheels attached mimic the real life ones complete with the axis shafts & the brakes. A series of concentric floral motifs decorate the wheels. It appears from the marks on the platform, where the wheels rest, the wheels were free to move around the axis. In front of the chariot two elephants are positioned as if they are pulling the chariot. In fact these elephants where brought from elsewhere and positioned here at a later stage. Originally two horses were carved in that position. The tails and the rear legs of the horses can be still seen just behind these elephant sculptures. A broken stone ladder once gave access to the sanctum is kept between the elephants. You can still spot the marks on the floor and the doorsill where once the ladder stood.

One of the notable features of the Vittala Temple is the musical pillars. Each of the pillars that support the roof of the main temple is supported by a pillar representing a musical instrument, and is constructed as 7 minor pillars arranged around a main pillar. These 7 pillars, when struck, emanate the 7 notes from the representative instrument, varying in sound quality based on whether it represents a wind, string or percussion instrument.  One can even see the remains of a township called Vittalapura that existed around this temple complex.


About Dipankar Bhattacharya

Dipankar is a CITA-F, ITIL certified professional specializing Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Cloud Computing. He is a certified Microsoft Dynamics CRM specialist and Architect and have been working in the field of CRM for enterprise customers across the globe.


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